Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the Origins of the Diverse Democracy

Overview

In the nineteenth century, virtually anyone could get into the United States. But by the 1920s, U.S. immigration policy had become a finely filtered regime of selection. Desmond King looks at this dramatic shift, and the debates behind it, for what they reveal about the construction of an "American" identity.

Specifically, the debates in the three decades leading up to 1929 were conceived in terms of desirable versus undesirable immigrants. This not only cemented judgments about...

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Overview

In the nineteenth century, virtually anyone could get into the United States. But by the 1920s, U.S. immigration policy had become a finely filtered regime of selection. Desmond King looks at this dramatic shift, and the debates behind it, for what they reveal about the construction of an "American" identity.

Specifically, the debates in the three decades leading up to 1929 were conceived in terms of desirable versus undesirable immigrants. This not only cemented judgments about specific European groups but reinforced prevailing biases against groups already present in the United States, particularly African Americans, whose inferior status and second-class citizenship—enshrined in Jim Crow laws and embedded in pseudo-scientific arguments about racial classifications—appear to have been consolidated in these decades. Although the values of different groups have always been recognized in the United States, King gives the most thorough account yet of how eugenic arguments were used to establish barriers and to favor an Anglo-Saxon conception of American identity, rejecting claims of other traditions. Thus the immigration controversy emerges here as a significant precursor to recent multicultural debates.

Making Americans shows how the choices made about immigration policy in the 1920s played a fundamental role in shaping democracy and ideas about group rights in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
America's reputation for welcoming all people and celebrating diversity is largely a myth: the great melting pot just never got hot enough to really simmer--or so claims King (professor of politics at Oxford) in this absorbing and persuasive study of U.S. immigration policy. From the earliest days of the Republic, he charts how concepts of race and "whiteness"--variously signifying intelligence, moral capacity and "assimilability"--helped shape both public attitudes and social policy as to who could and who could not become an American. Noting that "Americans' toleration of diversity has always been easier in principle than in practice," King delineates how immigrants seeking to become Americans became pawns in a broader, always shifting, project to define and promote an "American race." Asians, particularly the Chinese and Japanese, he says, were always seen as "fundamentally unassimilable," a sentiment that was supported by a series of draconian "exclusion" acts beginning in 1882. King draws heavily on the new discipline of "whiteness studies"--particularly the groundbreaking work of Michael Rogin and Noel Ignatiev--to examine how the identity of "being white" has changed over the last two centuries. While he analyzes specific immigration policies, some of his most potent arguments are found in the examination of how the "sciences" of eugenics and intelligence testing were used to exclude various ethnic and racial groups from entering the country or becoming citizens. Citing writers such as Toni Morrison and Patricia Williams, and works of popular culture including Gone With the Wind and Snow Falling on Cedars, King's arguments are vivid and engaging. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
King (politics, St. John's Coll., Oxford) has written a subtle analysis of the construction of American identity in the 20th century. He focuses on the restriction of immigration in the 1920s, which he regards as a defining moment in the institutionalization of the "ideal" American character as white and northern European. This model of assimilation through an anglicized melting pot has been challenged in the post-World War II era, especially by "new multiculturalist voices and the resurgence of ethnic loyalties." Yet King concludes optimistically that America can solve the problem of integrating "autonomous worlds and cultures." Highly recommended for all larger libraries.--Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Cal McCrystal
A superb study…[King's] book should be read by all policy-makers fretting themselves over a refugee 'problem.' It should be required reading also for those inclined to coerce or lure disparate cultural groups into acceptance of a preconceived national identity.
Financial Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674000889
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.35 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Desmond King is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of American Government, and Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

I. Immigrant America

Immigration and American Political Development

A Less Intelligent Class? The Dillingham Commission and the New Immigrants

II. Defining Americans

"The Fire of Patriotism": Americanization and U.S. Identity

"Frequent Skimmings of the Dross": Building an American Race?

"A Very Serious National Menace": Eugenics and Immigration

III. Legislating Americans

Enacting National Origins: The Johnson-Reed Immigration Act (1924)

"A Slur on Our Citizenry": Dismantling National Origins: The 1965 Act

IV. Legacies

After Americanization: Ethnic Politics and Multiculturalism

The Diverse Democracy

Appendix

Notes

Index

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